Oyster spat-on-shell are piled high to be planted in Eastern Bay tributaries. Handout photo.

210 Million Oysters to Be Planted Using Historic Buyboats Recently Brought to MD

 Maryland has selected a Cambridge aquaculture company to plant oysters in Eastern Bay as part of one of the largest oyster sanctuary projects in Maryland waters.

WRF Group LLC will plant 210 million juvenile oysters over 52.5 acres of sanctuaries in the Eastern Bay region under a Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) oyster reef restoration contract.

The large planting project is part of an overall commitment by the state of Maryland to encourage restoration of oysters in the states’ waters. The state’s oyster industry has played a major role historically in Maryland’s economy.

The project will use two large vessels that arrived on the bay in January from Bridgeport, Connecticut. You may remember when Bay Bulletin introduced you to the Robert Ute, a 1917, 52-footer, and Taylor Alyse, formerly the Columbia, a 1906, 70.6’-footer. Both wooden dredge boats have been outfitted with high pressure water hoses used to blow the spat of the decks onto the sanctuary beds.

The other vessels in the fleet are Shell of a Journey, a 56-foot aluminum work barge, and Richard Lee, a 66-foot fishing vessel repurposed for restoration work. 

More than 33,600 bushels of spat-on-shell are being planted in five sanctuary areas in Queen Anne’s and Talbot County waters beginning this month. The locations are Cox Creek (10 acres), Mill Hill (12.5 acres), Miles River (10 acres), Prospect Bay (10 acres) and the Wye River (10 acres).

Approximately 725 million diploid oyster larvae are being produced in Chesapeake Bay commercial hatcheries to achieve the required spat-on-shell seed for reef building. The WRF Group was awarded the  contract in February and it includes options to have the firm plant oyster seed on an additional 172 acres in the Eastern Bay Region over the next three years. 

“Through our extensive experience and expertise in commercial hatchery production, oyster farming and reef replenishment, WRF is uniquely qualified for this large-scale assignment to restore marine habitat and clean Bay waters,” said owner Ricky Fitzhugh.

Some of the oysters planted will be in protected sanctuaries, while others will be in reefs available for commercial harvesting.

“Moving forward as Seed to Shuck Ventures, we plan to be an active partner working with federal and state agencies, conservation organizations and watermen’s associations to plant new growth in both sanctuaries and public fisheries in Maryland and Virginia,” he said.

Due to the size and technical requirements of the Eastern Bay project, WRF has partnered with several companies throughout the Chesapeake Bay region which include the larvae production firms of Ferry Cove Oyster Hatchery outside St. Michaels; Oyster Seed Holdings in Hudgins, Virginia; Ward Oyster Company in Gloucester, Virginia; and the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science Horn Point Laboratory in Cambridge.

For seed planting, WRF is partnering with Eastern Shore companies Madison Bay Shell Recycling and Wittman Wharf Seafood; LaPlata, Maryland company Clements Creek Ventures will provide administrative support; and ground truthing surveys by Lane Engineering of Easton.

-Larry Chowning